Chapter 6 of The Longevity Project explores how early life events affect longevity. Interestingly, although early health advantages and disadvantages were not important to later health, several aspects of early life do affect longevity. Breastfeeding was found to have little effect on long-term health, something that surprised me as I would think early benefits of nutrition and parent-child bonding would set up a child for increased later success. As well, skipping a grade did not affect mortality. However, enrolling a child in formal schooling too soon was associated with a higher risk of dying early, potentially because of lost unstructured playtime that a child needs for healthy impulse control and focus development. Finally, level of education by itself was not a predictor of longevity, but other factors that went along with school success (such as persistence and creativity) promoted a long life. Finally, the authors reinforce that although patterns launched in early childhood are important longevity factors, these factors are not hugely important and can be altered later in life.
This chapter relates to my dad as he was enrolled in school at age six and then skipped several grades. Despite the fact that he was unusually bright, it is fortunate that my grandmother did not enroll him in formal schooling until the normal age, as doing so is associated with decreased longevity. I found it surprising that skipping a grade did not affect mortality, as I would think being the youngest child in a grade might create social stress that would negatively affect health.
This chapter relates to my perceptions of my future as aspects of my early life such as normal school enrollment time and my mother breastfeeding me were likely beneficial to my health. Despite this, as The Longevity Project details, these factors are relatively unimportant in predicting longevity, with other life factors having a greater effect on my long-term health.
Chapter 7 of The Longevity Project explores the effects of parental death and divorce on longevity. Strikingly, the death of a parent had no measurable effect on mortality risk while parental divorce was the greatest social predictor of early death. This may be because divorce can lead to lowered socioeconomic status. In addition, men with divorced parents were more likely to perform reckless behaviors that lead to early death and both genders had a higher chance of dying from disease. As well, because children from divorced families ended their education earlier, lower-educated men were more stressed trying to provide for their families, increasing their death risk. Those with divorced parents were also more likely to get a divorce and had fewer group memberships and community relations as adults. Unsurprisingly, adults from divorced families that succeeded had healthy marriages, avoided bad habits and were satisfied and interested in their vocations. Finally, I found it interesting that within men but not women, it was worst for health if they possessed positive family feelings and also had divorced parents, as this made split of a functional family particularly painful.
This chapter is relevant to several of my friends, as their parent’s divorces have led to financial hardship for their families. This compounds the stress of parental breakup by lowering access to higher-education and aspects of a healthy lifestyle such as nutrition. However, as described in The Longevity Project, it is resilience and one’s own choices that are most important in predicting longevity, meaning parental divorce does not make or break a person’s future.
This chapter also relates to my perception of my future as I am lucky enough to come from a stable home with happily married parents. This lack of home conflict has likely contributed to my healthy lifestyle and benefitted my longevity chances.